Isaiah 41 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 41
Pulpit Commentary
Keep silence before me, O islands; and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.
Verses 1-7. - ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DELIVERER, AND EFFECT ON THE SURROUNDING NATIONS. Isaiah returns to the standpoint of Isaiah 40:9-11. A deliverer of Israel is about to appear. The nations are therefore summoned to attend, and consider the facts (ver. 1). He will carry all before him (vers 2, 3), being raised up by God (ver. 4). The nations will tremble, and seek the protection of their idol-deities (vers. 5-7). Verse 1. - Keep silence before me, O islands. God is the speaker. The "islands," or maritime lands of Western Asia, are to be silent before him, pondering the facts with a view to future argument. "Then let them speak" (see vers. 21-29). Let the people renew their strength; rather, the peoples or the nations; i.e. the inhabitants of the maritime tracts. To judgment; i.e. to a discussion,, which shall terminate in a right verdict.
Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? he gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.
Verse 2. - Who raised up the righteous man, etc.? rather, who raised up from the East one whom righteousness will call to his foot. It is generally agreed among moderns that the reference is to Cyrus, who is further referred to in ver. 25, in Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1-4, 13; and Isaiah 46:11. Cyrus, whether we regard him as King of Persia, or as King of Elam (Susiana), would come from a land lying east of Babylon. "Righteousness called him to his foot" when God, the Righteous One, made him his minister, and gave him a certain task to perform (Isaiah 44:28). Gave the nations before him; rather, gives, or will give. (On the rapid conquests of Cyrus, see Herod., 1:75-191; and comp. 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 4. pp. 354-377.) That he was God's instrument must be admitted by all who allow that the course of history is determined by a superintending Providence. Made him rule over kings. Mr. Cheyne translates, "makes him trample upon kings," which seems to give the true sense. It was certainly not the general policy of Cyrus to establish under him a number of subject kings, but rather to rule the conquered countries by means of Persian or Median governors (see Herod., 1:153, 156; 'Transactions of the Society of Bibl. Archaeol.,' vol. 7. p. 166) He gave them as the dust to his sword, etc.; or, according to some, he maketh their sword as dust, and their bow as driven stubble. The result is the same, whichever we regard as the true construction. The prophecy tells of the ease and completeness with which Cyrus vanquished his enemies.
He pursued them, and passed safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet.
Verse 3. - He pursued them, and passed safely; rather, he shall pursue them, and shall pass on in safety. Even by the way that he had not gone with his feet; rather, a path with his feet he shall not tread. The meaning seems to be that he will dispense with customary paths, making his advance everywhere over all obstacles, by untrodden ways. Compare the frequent boasts of the Assyrian kings: "To the recesses of the deep forests and the peaks of the difficult mountains, which had never been trodden by the foot of man, I ascended' ('Records of the Past,' vol. 5. p. 13). "Difficult mountain chains, and inaccessible hills, which none of our kings had ever previously reached - tedious paths and unopened roads - I traversed" (ibid., p. 16). "The lands of Sihak, of Arda, of Ulayan, of Alluria, inaccessible mountains, impossible for the horses, and inaccessible for myself, I went through" (ibid., vol. 7. p. 36).
Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he.
Verse 4. - Who hath wrought and done it? i.e. "by whom has this mighty conqueror been raised up?" Can any of the idol-gods claim him as their protege? Assuredly not. He is my work; I, Jehovah, that have called (into being) the generations (of man) from the beginning (of the world) - I, Jehovah, the First, and with the last, am he that he has done this thing. By "the First, and with the last" - a favourite phrase in these later chapters (see Isaiah 45:6 and Isaiah 48:12) - seems to be meant simply "the Eternal" (comp. Revelation 1:8, 11, 17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:13).
The isles saw it, and feared; the ends of the earth were afraid, drew near, and came.
Verse 5. - The isles saw it, and feared. A general terror seized the nations on the conquest of the Medes by Cyrus. Croesus of Lydia, Nabonidus of Babylon, and Amasis of Egypt, were at once drawn together by the common danger, and made alliance offensive and defensive (Herod., 1:77). The weaker tribes and peoples gave themselves up for lost. Scarcely any resistance seems to have been offered to the Persian arms by the tribes between the Halys and Indus, the Jaxartes and the Indian Ocean. Lydia and Babylon alone made a stout fight; but even these were conquered without very much difficulty. The ends of the earth... drew near; i.e. distant nations held (will hold) consultation together on the danger which threatens them. The league of Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt is the only known instance of such "drawing near" (see the preceding note). Isaiah anticipates marked consultations and exhortations with respect to the idol-gods, in which trust should be put; but perhaps he is scarcely serious in vers. 6, 7. Rather he is indulging his sarcastic humour at the expense of the idols and of those who put their trust in them. (For instances, however, of actual trust in particular idols, see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 4. p. 58; Herod., 5:67; 8:64,)
They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.
So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith, and he that smootheth with the hammer him that smote the anvil, saying, It is ready for the sodering: and he fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.
Verse 7. - The carpenter, etc. (comp. Isaiah 40:19, 20 for the variety of workmen employed in the production of idols). Each encourages the others to manufacture a right good god. When all is done, there is, however, need of soldering, and of nails, that the wretched object may be kept erect, and not show its weakness by falling, like Dagon, upon its own threshold (1 Samuel 5:4).
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.

(1) of God's faithfulness (vers. 8, 9);

(2) of special divinely infused strength (ver. 10);

(3) of the infusion of weakness into their enemies (vers. 11, 12);

(4) of external Divine aid (vers. 13, 14);

(5) of an aggressive vigour that shall enable them to scatter their foes (vers. 15, 16); and

(6) of spiritual refreshment even amidst their worst sufferings (vers. 17-19). The eye of the prophet travels perhaps, in part, beyond the period of the Captivity; but he is mainly bent on giving the people grounds of comfort and trust during that trying time. Verse 8. - Israel... my servant (comp. Isaiah 44:1, 2, 21; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 49:3-6, etc.). The title characterizes these later chapters, and, while standing no doubt in some special relation to the "Servant of Jehovah" who is the subject of Isaiah 42:1-5; Isaiah 49:5-7, etc., is perhaps mainly selected, and dwelt on, to console Israel in captivity, when servants of the King of Babylon (2 Chronicles 36:20), by the thought that their true Master was God himself, and that to him, and him only, did they really belong. Jacob whom I have chosen (comp. Isaiah 44:1). (On this "choice," and the love which it implied, see Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 10:15) Abraham my friend; or, Abraham that loved me. It was the special privilege of Abraham to be known as God's friend (see 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23) among the Hebrews, even as he is among the Arabs to this day. The "friendship" intended comprised, no doubt, both an active and a passive element, but it is the active element which the word principally enforces. Abraham loved God, and showed his love by his obedience.
Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.
Verse 9. - Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth; i.e. from Ur of the Chaldees (Mugheir in Lower Babylonia), and again from Egypt, another "end of the earth" compared with Palestine. The prophet views Palestine as Israel's true habitat, whatever may be its temporary abiding-place. From the chief men thereof. Most moderns translate "from the corners thereof;" but atsilim has the meaning of "chief men" in the only other place where it occurs (Exodus 24:11). And not cast thee away. Not even when in exile was Israel "cast away." God's care was still extended over them.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Verse 10. - Fear thou not. This verse is most closely connected with the two preceding. The clauses in vers. 8, 9 are one and all vocative; here the verb follows. The whole passage is one of great tenderness. I am with thee (comp. Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; and see above (vol. 1, p. 132), on the force of the word" Immanuel"). I will strengthen thee; rather, I have strengthened thee, or I have chosen thee (Delitzsch, Cheyne). The two other verbs are also in the past tense. While primarily they declare past favours, they may also be regarded as prophetic of future ones, since "with God is no variableness.'
Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish.
Verses 11, 12. - As Israel would grow strong through God's help, so her enemies would grow weak through God's disfavour. That enemies of all kinds may be seen to be included, the designation is four times varied - "they that are angry with thee;" "that are at strife with thee;" "that are in conflict with thee;" "that are at war with thee." The order is one of climax. Similarly, with each augmentation of the hostility there is an augmentation of the sentence of punishment - "shall be covered with shame;" "shall perish;" "shall not be found;" "shall become as nothingness."
Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought.
For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
Verse 13. - I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand. God himself will be their Strength, will personally interfere on their behalf, taking them as it were by their right hand. Saying unto thee; rather, I who say to thee.
Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
Verse 14. - Thou worm Jacob. Though in thyself the weakest of the weak, grovelling in the dust, a mere worm (Job 25:6; Psalm 22:6), yet thou hast no cause to fear, since God sustains thee. Ye men of Israel; rather, ye handful, Israel (Delitzsch). The term used is one of disparagement, corresponding to the "worm" of the parallel clause. Few and weak though they be, God's people need not fear. Thy Redeemer. The word goel, here used for the first time by Isaiah, is frequent throughout the later chapters (Isaiah 43:14; Isaiah 44:6, 24; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Isaiah 49:7, 26; Isaiah 54:5, 8; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 63:16). It is used for the "nearest of kin," and "avenger of blood," in the Levitical Law, but has a sense similar to that of the present passage in Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14: 78:35: 103:4; Proverbs 23:11; and Jeremiah 50:34. The sense "redeem" belongs to the verb of which goal is the participle, in Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Leviticus 25:25, 33, 48, 49; Leviticus 27:13, 19, 21, etc. The Holy One of Israel Isaiah's favourite designation of the Almighty in his covenant relationship to Israel, used eleven times in the earlier chapters (Isaiah 1:35.), once in the middle or historical portion, and thirteen times in the later chapters (Isaiah 40-66.); only used elsewhere in Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; and Psalm 51:5 (see Urwick, 'Servant of Jehovah,' pp. 36, 37).
Behold, I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth: thou shalt thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.
Verse 15. - I will make thee a new sharp threshing-instrument. Israel is to be more than sustained. Strength is to be given her to take the aggressive, and to subdue her enemies under her. She is to "thresh them" and "beat them small," as with a threshing-instrument (comp. 2 Kings 13:7; Amos 1:3; Micah 4:13). In the literal sense, no earlier accomplishment of this prophecy can be pointed out than the time of the Maccahean war. Metaphorically, it may be said that Israel began to conquer the world when her literature became known to the Greeks through the expedition of Alexander the Great, and completed her conquest when the Roman empire succumbed to the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Having teeth. Threshing-instruments of the kind described are still in use in Syria (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' p. 539) and Asia Minor (Fellows, 'Asia Minor,' p. 70). The corn is spread out on the ground, and the machine, which is sometimes armed with sharp stones, sometimes with saws, is dragged ever it. The Arabic name is still noreg, a modification of the Hebrew moreg. Thou shalt thresh the mountains... the hills; i.e. "thou shalt subdue proud and mighty foes" (Delitzsch).
Thou shalt fan them, and the wind shall carry them away, and the whirlwind shall scatter them: and thou shalt rejoice in the LORD, and shalt glory in the Holy One of Israel.
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
Verses 17-20. - The crowning promise is that of spiritual support and refreshment through' the dull and dreary time of the Captivity, during which Israel dwells as it were in a desert, without water, or shade, or the relief to the eye which is furnished by the greenery of trees and shrubs. God was able to make of this "wilderness a standing water, and water-springs of the dry ground" (Psalm 107:35), and he promises to do so (ver. 18). The soul that longs for him, that thirsts after him, feeling that it dwells "in a barren and dry land, where no water is" (Psalm 63:1), shall be relieved and satisfied by a revelation of God's presence, and an outpouring of his grace unusually copious and abundant. God's grace is shadowed out under the two similitudes of water and verdure, as in Isaiah 35:7, and, to some extent, in Isaiah 30:23-25. Verse 17. - The poor and needy; i.e. primarily, Israel in captivity; but secondarily, also, the "poor in spirit," and those that feel the need of God's grace, everywhere and at all times.
I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.
Verse 18. - I will open rivers in high places (comp. Isaiah 30:25). If even the "high places" had water, much more would-the low ground - the valleys - be abundantly supplied. The abundance is indicated by the fourfold designation of the water-supply, as coming from

(1) rivers;

(2) fountains (or wells);

(3) pools; and

(4) springs (comp. vers. 11, 12).
I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, and the myrtle, and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together:
Verse 19. - I will plant in the wilderness the cedar, etc. The "glory of Lebanon," the "excellency of Carmel and Sharon" (Isaiah 35:2), shall be given to the "wilderness," wherein Israel dwells. The trees named are the choicest of Syria and Palestine, viz. the cedar (erez). the great glory of Libanus; the acacia (shittah), abundant in the Jordan valley; the myrtle (hadas),whieh grew on the hills about Jerusalem (Nehemiah 8:15); the olive, cultivated over the whole country; the fir (berosh), or juniper. a product of Lebanon (2 Chronicles 2:8); the plane (tidhar), a tree far from uncommon in Coele-syria, sometimes growing to a great size; and the sherbin (teasshur), a sort of cedar, remarkable for the upward tendency of its branches. The list of names shows a writer familiar with the Palestinian region, but not familiar with Babylonia.
That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it.
Verse 20. - That they may see, etc. The change would be such that those who experienced it could not fail to recognize "Jehovah, the Holy One of Israel," as its Author.
Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob.
Verses 21-29. - JEHOVAH'S CONTROVERSY WITH THE NATIONS AND THEIR IDOL-GODS. The argument is now taken up from vers. 1-4. Jehovah and his worshippers are on the one side; the idol-gods and their votaries on the other. The direct challenge, however, is given by Jehovah himself to the idols:

1. What predictions of their own can they bring forward as proofs of supernatural knowledge?

2. What indications can they give of power either to do good or to do evil (vers. 22, 23)? If they can do neither, they are vanity (ver. 24). Jehovah has both reared up Cyrus he and he only - and has announced the good tidings to his people (vers. 25-27). No such announcement has been made by the idol-gods; they are therefore mere "wind and confusion" (vers. 28, 29). Verse 21. - Produce your cause. The nations had been told to "draw near" - to "keep silence" while God spoke - and "then to speak" (ver. 1). Now the time for them to speak is come, and they are challenged to "produce" and plead "their cause." Your strong reasons; literally, your bulwarks, or defences. Saith the King of Jacob. The king and tutelary god of the nation, Israel, really holding the position that the idol-gods were regarded as holding towards the peoples that worshipped them. The "kingly" character of the idol-gods was indicated in such names as Moloch (equivalent to "king"), Melkarth (equivalent to "king of the city"), Adrammelech (equivalent to "glorious king"), Baal (equivalent to "lord"), Adonis (equivalent to "my lord"), etc.
Let them bring them forth, and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come.
Verse 22. - Let them... show us what will happen. God claims that the power of predicting the future is his own inalienable prerogative. He defies the idol-gods and their votaries to give any clear prediction of future events. No doubt the claim to possess the power was made very generally among the idolatrous nations, who almost universally practised divination, and in many cases possessed oracles. But it was a false claim, based upon fraud and cunning, which deceived men as often as dependence was placed upon it (Herod., 1:53, 91) and landed them in misfortune. The former things... things for to come. Some commentators regard "the former things" as things actually past - "the beginnings of history, for instance, which to the heathen nations were wrapped in darkness" (Kay); but it seems better, on the whole, to understand (with Vitringa, Stier, Hahn, Cheyne, and Delitzsch) by "the former things" those in the immediate future, by "things for to come" those about to happen in remoter times. The former are, of course, much the easier to predict, since they fall to some extent within the domain of human foresight; the latter are more difficult; but the idol-gods are challenged to produce either the one or the other. What they be. A definite and clear statement is required to preclude such vague and ambiguous utterances as the heathen oracles delighted to put forth. That we may consider them (or, lay them to heart), and know the latter end of them; i.e. compare them with the event, when the time comes.
Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together.
Verse 23. - Yea, do good, or do evil. Here the proof required of the idol-gods is changed. If they cannot prophesy, can they effect anything? Can they do either good or harm? Let them show this. It is a plain "abatement" from the first demand, and therefore properly introduced by "yea" (aph); comp. 1 Kings 8:27. That we may be dismayed; i.e. rather, perhaps, that we may look to it, or examine it; i.e. see if yon have really shown a power of doing anything.
Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought: an abomination is he that chooseth you.
Verse 24. - A pause may be supposed between vers. 23 and 24, during which the idol-gods are given the opportunity of "bringing, forth their strong reasons," and, in one way or other, proving their Divinity. But they are stricken dumb; they say nothing. Accordingly, "judgment goes against them by default" (Cheyne), and Jehovah breaks out upon them with words of contempt and contumely, Behold, ye are of nothing, etc. "Ye are utterly vain and futile."
I have raised up one from the north, and he shall come: from the rising of the sun shall he call upon my name: and he shall come upon princes as upon morter, and as the potter treadeth clay.
Verse 25. - It remains for Jehovah to plead his own cause, to vindicate his own Divinity. He adduces, as proof of his power in action, the fact of his raising up Cyrus; as proof of his ability to predict, the fact that he has announced his coming. One from the north... from the rising of the sun. Both as a Persian, and as King of Elam, Cyrus might be considered to come from the east. In fact, however, when he attacked Babylon, he fell upon it mainly from the north. After his conquest of Astyages (Istivegu), he made Ecbatana his capital (Herod., 1:153); and it was from this comparatively northern city that he directed his attack upon Nabonidus. His march lay by way of Arbela ('Transactions of the Society of Bibl. Archaeol.,' vol. 7. p. 159) and Sippara (ibid., p. 165), through the district called Akkad to the Chaldean capital. Herodotus agrees with the monuments in bringing him to Babylon from the north. Shall he call upon my Name; or, shall he. proclaim my Name. (For the actual proclamation of Jehovah's Name by Cyros, see Ezra 1:3; and note especially the phrase, "He [i.e. Jehovah] is the God.") Recent discoveries have raised the suspicion that Cyrus was a eyncretist, who was willing to accept the chief god of any nation as identical with his own Ormuzd. But it is to be borne in 'mind that the document which has produced this impression is one issued by the priestly authorities of Babylon in their own language, and may have been quite unknown to the Persian court. Cyrus may have been a better Zoroastrian than he is represented by the priests of Merodach. The Zoroastrian religion was, as Delitzsch observes, "nearest to the Jewish religion of all the systems of heathenism" (see . Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 3. pp. 93-117; and comp. Pusey, 'Lectures on Daniel,' pp. 530-550). He shall come upon princes as upon mortar; i.e. he shall tread them underfoot, mortar being commonly mixed with the feet, as was also clay for bricks and pottery (Herod., 2:36). The chief" princes" whom Cyrus is known to have conquered were Astyages of Media, Croesus of Lydia, and Nabenidus of Babylon. He was studiously mild in his treatment of royal captives, but naturally deprived them of all power.
Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words.
Verse 26. - Who hath declared from the beginning? Which of the idol-gods has announced the coming of a conqueror? If any, we on Jehovah's side are quite willing to acknowledge it, and to say, He is righteous; or rather, he is right. But, in fact, there is none of them that showeth, none that declareth - no one has heard of any such announcement as delivered by any of them.
The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.
Verse 27. - The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them; rather, the first has said. By "the first" must certainly be meant Jehovah - " the First, and with the last" of ver. 4. He has already announced to Zion her deliverance (see Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 41:2, etc.). I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings. Perhaps Isaiah himself (Grotius, Stier, Delitzsch). Perhaps some prophet of the Captivity, as Daniel, who "knew by books" when the Captivity was drawing to a close (Daniel 9:2), and may be supposed to have announced the good tidings to the other exiles.
For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counseller, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word.
Verse 28. - For I beheld. "Jehovah once more looks round to see if any of the idols possess an ability to prophesy, but in vain" (Cheyne). He finds no counsellor, i.e. no prophet, among them. Hence the final "outburst of scorn" in ver. 29, which, however, is directed primarily against the idol-worshippers, and, only through them, against the idols.

Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
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